Saturday, January 10, 2009

Petit Chablis

It's that time of year and I'm thinking about the Chablis in France. Cold weather and January are synonymous with Chablis in my mind, this being the off season for wine makers and the time of year that I used to go on buying trips in a former life before the restaurant business.

After flying all night Saturday night to France and negotiating the rental car process in Paris, the first stop would be the village of Chablis, a pleasant enough less than 2-hour drive out the A6. In fact, it's just enough time to become ragingly hungry and arrive for the Sunday morning market.

Chablis will always be a magical place for me, being forever linked with going to the Sunday market to buy some briny Arcachon and Belon oysters, a bottle of grand cru Chablis, and driving up into the Vaudésir vineyard overlooking the town and the Serein, and embracing the cold wind of January while sitting in the vineyard eating the oysters and drinking the Chablis for breakfast.

Racy Chablis right in the grand cru vineyard just seems to be the perfect pairing for oysters. The perfection of the pairing comes from the high acid Chardonnay (some old timers in Chablis still call Chardonnay Beaunois, the grape from Beaune, much further south in the Bourgogne proper) made in the Chablis. The acidity comes not only from the calcareous soils, but from the northerly lattitude that keeps the grapes from overripening: only the Champagne is further north in France. And a lack of oak and lack of malolactic fermentation certainly help where oysters are concerned.

When people think of Chablis, they tend to think of only three appellations: Chablis Grand Cru, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis; they forget (or don't know about) Petit Chablis, the fourth appellation. On the quality scale, vineyards designated as Petit Chablis produce wines that have been historically on the low end. This doesn't necessarily mean bad. What it means in these budget conscious times is inexpensive. A rock solid Petit Chablis from a top producer can be a lot better and a whole lot less expensive than a Chablis or Premier Cru from a lesser producer.

We don't have any Petit Chablis on the restaurant wine list; selling any kind of Chablis at all in our market is difficult. But, if you happen across it at a wine shop or on a restaurant wine list, you might just have found a racy Chardonnay at a good price, a solid value wine.

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